Bugbee, Emma (1888–1981)

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Bugbee, Emma (1888–1981)

American reporter who wrote for the New York Herald Tribune for over half a century. Born on May 18, 1888, in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania; died on October6, 1981, in Warwick, Rhode Island; first of three children of Edwin Howard (a language teacher) and Emma Bugbee; graduated from Barnard College, New York; never married; no children.

At her retirement in 1966, Emma Bugbee, the grand dame of the New York Herald Tribune, estimated that she had spent 18,911 days as a newspaper reporter. In 56 years on the job—reporting mostly on women—she gained her greatest prominence as one of Eleanor Roosevelt 's "girls," a group of women reporters who traveled with the first lady. In 1962, when Eleanor Roosevelt died, Bugbee wrote an award-winning tribute about the woman she, and the country, had come to know and admire. Bugbee's retirement coincided with the announcement that the Tribune would merge with the World Telegram and Sun and the Journal-American to become the World Journal Tribune. Feeling that the best of New York journalism was behind her, she took her leave after filing her last assignment, the dedication of a United Nations' memorial to her friend Eleanor Roosevelt.

Emma Bugbee was born on May 18, 1888, in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania; she graduated from Barnard College and was on her way to a teaching career when a college classmate, a reporter at the Tribune, asked Bugbee to fill in for her while she was vacationing in Germany. When her friend decided to remain abroad, Bugbee was asked to stay. Although assigned to the city desk, the 22-year-old rookie wrote from a perch outside the all-male newsroom, from which, as a woman, she was barred. For four years, she worked without a byline, covering even major stories without credit. Her first byline came with an undercover story in the style of Nellie Bly (Elizabeth Seaman ) or Annie Laurie (Winifred Sweet Black ). Posing as a blue-bonneted Salvation Army collector, she rang a bell on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Discouraged by the apathy of shoppers who rushed past her with their hands in their pockets, she led off her piece with, "Is it the hearts or the hands of New Yorkers that are so cold?"

Bugbee was a generalist, covering everything from the annual flower show and circus, to murders and local politics. She noted scores of women's "firsts" and was on hand for over half a century of women's events. In her book Brilliant Bylines, Barbara Belford notes that Bugbee's articles comprise a history of the women's movement: "She was there for the suffrage marches and rallies; for the 1924 convention, the first where women were voting delegates; and for the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment by the Women's Party in Washington in 1923. When she died at ninety-three, she was still optimistic about its passage."

In 1922, Bugbee was one of the founders of the Newspaper Women's Club of New York and served as its president for three terms. In 1936, she published the first in a series of five "Peggy" books, based on her experience as a reporter; these books inspired many young women to careers in journalism.

Bugbee's colleagues were possibly her biggest fans, and she was known as shrewd, warm, generous, and supportive, especially to her women associates. She was also unflappable, even under deadline pressure. Dick West, her copy editor for over 30 years, recalled her as "a lady who in a tumultuous, sophisticated world learned to adjust, but still preserved the virtues and manner of a simpler, homier time." When she retired, Trib columnist Jimmy Breslin wrote, "She left and took part of the business with her."

Emma Bugbee never married and spent several years of her retirement traveling and painting landscapes at her summer home in Connecticut. Her last 11 years were spent at a nursing home in Rhode Island, where she died on October 6, 1981.


Belford, Barbara. Brilliant Bylines. NY: Columbia University Press, 1986.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts